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Face it, everyone in Singapore hates the haze. It gives us respiratory problems and wearing an N95 mask does not work with anyone’s face. What I can’t stand is how my skin reacts badly to the smog ‒ clogged pores, blackheads, redness ‒ I just won’t have it anymore. Since no one has managed to stop Indonesia, I spoke to two aesthetic doctors, Dr Georgia Lee and Dr Low Chai Ling, to get some tips on how to maintain and treat your skin during the hazy period.
1. Eat the right foods and have one less martini
Certain foods will definitely be beneficial during this hazy period. Dr Georgia Lee, aesthetic founder of TLC Lifestyle clinic, advises to eat foods such as broccoli, seaweed, and blueberries, as they are rich in anti-inflammatory properties. An anti-inflammatory diet will help you lower the possibilities of inflammations (well, duh), and keep those pimples at bay.
If you’re not a fan of those foods, fret not! Dr Low Chai Ling, founder of aesthetic group Sloane Clinic, suggests: “You can build up your immunity (by eating) foods rich in vitamin C, such as fresh fruits and vegetables, as this will help load your skin with vital antioxidants. Be sure to eat nuts and seeds, as they contain vitamin E, and last but not least, foods with omega-3 fatty acids.”
If changing your diet is not your thing, loading up on supplements containing omega 3 oils, vitamins C and E will also do the trick. But that isn’t all. To ensure that all these nutrients are absorbed into your body, Dr Low says that cutting down on your flat white and martini may be a good idea, as alcohol and coffee promote fluid loss and leach nutrients from the body. (This explains why I’ve never had glowy skin).
If your skin is particularly sensitive (like mine) you might also wish to avoid sugary foods, such as cakes and cereals, that have a high glycemic index. According to Dr Lee, “A High Glycemic Index diet can lead to insulin resistance. It is a condition in which the cells become insensitive to the effects of insulin, so the body's response to a normal amount of insulin is reduced. As a result, higher amounts of insulin are needed for the insulin hormone to work in the body. A higher insulin level results in more androgen-driven acne breakouts.” Bottom line ‒ stay away from all that sugar because it might cause another pimple.
2. Two words: Cleanse well and Moisturise
“The haze contain high concentrations of air pollutants that can affect our skin,” according to Dr Low. “These particles settle over the skin and may cause irritation, especially to those susceptible, such as people with eczema. However, even those eczema-free may find their skin becoming irritable. This may result with rough textures, an itch or rash, and even breakouts, if the PSI levels are high,” says Dr Lee.
If getting irritable skin during this period isn’t enough, the effects of the pollutants last beyond the haze: “Long-term, free radical damage (from the haze) can also cause premature ageing. When the pollutants in the haze rob your skin of it’s oxygen supply, the result is signs of ageing, such as wrinkles and loss of elasticity in the skin. If you already have mature skin, you will be more susceptible to high pollution concentrations because your ability to fight free radicals diminishes as you get older.” says Dr Low.
To combat pollutants, Dr Lee recommends using a non oil-based makeup remover to slough away the grime, before cleansing your skin. It is important to ensure that you cleanse well, but beware of over-cleansing. According to Dr Low, signs of over-cleansing include using cleansers that leave the skin ‘squeaky clean’ or taut, as these are signs of skin dehydration. She also advises against the use of harsh, drying soaps, as they can also strip away the skin’s natural essential oil, leaving the skin dry and dehydrated.
On top of this; moisturise, moisturise, moisturise. “A good moisturiser doesn’t just hydrate your skin, but it also locks in the goodness from the skincare products you have applied, as well as create a barrier between your skin and the environmental aggressors,” says Dr Low. So make sure you don’t forget to layer on that cream!
3. Stop using that scrub!
As much as we know how the particles settle onto our skin and (gulp) deep into our pores, it isn’t wise to scrub. As mentioned in point two, avoid harsh cleansers and alcohol-based toners that will dry your skin and remove its essential oils. On top of that, Dr Lee recommends to slow down the use of products containing Alpha Hydroxyl Acids (AHA) as well as exfoliants containing Adapalene and Tretinions, as these ingredients may make your skin more sensitive to pollutants. Unfortunately for us, a large majority of scrubs and cleansers contain these ingredients. However, as the skin will need to retain its essential oils during this hazy period, it is best to slow down or avoid using these products for the time being. Using a scrub once a week is still a-okay, but if your skin is reacting to the hazy conditions ‒ let it have a breather.
If you have acne-prone skin, or if you freak out over the occasional zit like me, be sure to moisturise well after applying topical acne treatments. “The high concentration or excessive use of topical treatments such as strong retinoids, potent whitening hydroquinone, hydrogen peroxide, Retin-A, and benzoyl peroxide may irritate the skin, leaving it dry, red, and inflamed. Cut back on the frequency of usage to every other day until your skin normalises and be sure to moisturise your skin when using them,” says Dr Low.
4. Calm the redness (and wrinkles)
If the haze has already got to you, like it has to me, SOS is on the way. Start loading up on calming ‘agents’. These not only help soothe the skin, but they also act as an efficient moisturising agent (remember point two?) so talk about a two-in-one!
Dr Lee recommends calming agents such as chamomile, green tea, aloe vera, cucumber, gingko biloba leaf, and emu oil for those eczema-prone. These ingredients have calming and soothing effects, which will help get rid of the redness in your skin. “But if that fails, try over the counter antihistamines and hydrocortisones in affected areas. Seek medical help if the rash is more severe, widespread or do not respond to self-medication.” Dr Lee adds.
For those wishing to rid your skin of the effects of pollutants and free radical damage, Dr Low advises to load up on vitamin C serums and antioxidant-based products. They will help fight (and hopefully) undo the damage done by the smog.
5. Rely on Home remedies
A good way to tackle these problems is through home remedies, according to Dr Lee. Personally, I love home remedies as they are easy to do and budget friendly. You can also pick the ingredients that you’re most comfortable with, or tackle your most pressing skin concern. It is kind of like having that all-in-one miracle cream for free (well, almost). One of my favourite home remedies is the green tea mask. Rich in anti-inflammatory properties, green tea is a natural antioxidant and anticarcinogenic all rolled into one. All you have to do is make yourself a cup of green tea (without sugar of course), soak it with a clean mask sheet that you can get from your local beauty store, and place the mask in the fridge for ten minutes or until chilled. Leave on your face for 15 minutes and you’re done! If you’re looking to tackle other skin concerns such as pigmentation, add a teaspoon of lemon - nature’s natural whitening agent - and you’ll have an anti-inflammatory whitening mask.
The amount of home remedies available online is enormous ‒ a simple google search will tell you. But a lot of them are also western-centric, which means that you would probably have a hard time finding the right ingredients at your regular NTUC or Sheng Siong. Some DIY masks may also not work in our humid weather (can you imagine leaving a mashed-up banana on your face in Singapore for 20 minutes?!). Keeping that in mind, I will be sharing with you a few of my favourite DIY facials in the next article, so stay tuned!
Dr Georgia Lee is the founder and medical director of TLC Lifestyle clinic at 27 Lorong Liput Singapore 277738, and she has her own skincare range, DrGL, found in leading departmental stores. For more information, visit www.drgl.com and follow the brand on Facebook.
Dr Low Chai Ling is the founder of Sloane Clinic at 30 Raffles Place #03-01 Chevron House Singapore 048622, and she has her own skincare range, Sloane Inc. For more information, visit www.sloaneclinic.com and follow the brand on Facebook.